Litigation 101 for eDiscovery Tech Professionals: The Bare Boned Basics

By: Jane Gennarelli

** This blog series is intended to introduce new eDiscovery professionals to the litigation process and litigation terminology. Click here to go to the first post in the series. ***


In simple terms, litigation is a dispute between two or more parties that they can’t resolve on their own, so they bring that dispute to a neutral third party — a court — to resolve.  Each party in the lawsuit presents its side of the story to the court, and the court determines an outcome.  The parties in the lawsuit are legally bound to abide by the court’s ruling.

There are two general types of litigation in the United States:

  • Criminal litigation: A criminal case is initiated by a government prosecutor against an individual who allegedly committed a crime. The outcome of most criminal litigation where a guilty verdict is returned is a prison sentence.
  • Civil litigation:  A civil case is a private lawsuit between two or more parties regarding the rights or obligations between those parties.  Examples of civil cases are a disagreement over the obligations of a party to a contract and a disagreement over who is at fault in an accident and therefore liable to pay damages. The outcome of a civil lawsuit is usually financial compensation or an order to stop or start a particular action.

In both types of lawsuits, evidence that supports a party’s position is key.  In criminal cases, evidence is often physical in nature – for example, ‘the bloody knife’.  In civil cases – especially disputes between major business entities – the evidence is usually documents – often in massive amounts.  Most of the cases, therefore, that eDiscovery professionals work on are civil cases.  The exception is White Collar Crime litigation, which are criminal cases in which dishonest or fraudulent business practices are alleged (for example, the ENRON case). White Collar Crime cases often involve huge volumes of documents, and are, therefore, within the purview of eDiscovery professionals.

Within civil litigation, there’s a wide variety of ‘types’ of lawsuits — examples are product liability litigation, antitrust litigation, and securities litigation.  EDiscovery professionals – especially those who work in large firms – are likely to work on lots of different types of cases.  In a later post in this series, we’ll talk a bit about some of the different types of lawsuits you might encounter.

The primary players in a lawsuit are:

  • The Plaintiff: The party that initiates the lawsuit and files a complaint
  • The Defendant:  The party being sued

The lawsuit name is made up of the last names of the plaintiff and the defendant, with the plaintiff name first.  In “Jones v. Smith”, Jones is the plaintiff and initiated a lawsuit against Smith, the defendant.

It can be a bit more complicated – in some cases there may be more than one person or entity bringing the suit. That means there are multiple plaintiffs (the first plaintiff’s name is used in the case name, and that plaintiff is called the “name plaintiff”).  In criminal cases, the plaintiff is a government entity, typically the state or federal government with jurisdiction over the alleged crime.  And in some cases a plaintiff may file a suit against more than one person or entity.  That means there are multiple defendants — called codefendants (the first defendant’s name is used in the case name, and that defendant is called the “name defendant”).

In the next post, we’ll talk about how a lawsuit gets started.  Please let us know if there are specific areas you’d like to see covered.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine Discovery. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine Discovery solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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About the Bloggers

Brad Jenkins

Brad Jenkins, President and CEO of CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years of experience leading customer focused companies in the litigation support arena. Brad has authored many articles on litigation support issues, and has spoken before national audiences on document management practices and solutions.

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Doug Austin

Doug Austin, Professional Services Manager for CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years experience providing legal technology consulting and technical project management services to numerous commercial and government clients. Doug has also authored several articles on eDiscovery best practices.

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Jane Gennarelli

Jane Gennarelli is a principal of Magellan’s Law Corporation and has been assisting litigators in effectively handling discovery materials for over 30 years. She authored the company’s Best Practices in a Box™ content product and assists firms in applying technology to document handling tasks. She is a known expert and often does webinars and presentations for litigation support professionals around the country. Jane can be reached by email at

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